Shortly after Kilauea began erupting inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the night of Dec. 20, Paradise Helicopters’ phone lines began to go up.
The day after the eruption, hotel concierges began calling the Kona-based company about charters, knowing that at a time when social distancing and other health protocols limit activities, a chance to see a volcano spilling out into lava would be a memorable experience for guests.
Soon, tourists who were on the island of Hawaii as the holidays approached also began calling to book tours. In the first week after the Kilauea eruption began, Paradise took off for 132 tours. Compare that to November, when the company held just 45 tours all month, according to marketing manager Alicia Nagel.
Although the company was able to keep its pilots on the job during the pandemic for the most part thanks to business-to-business labor and federal assistance, the stock’s surge at the end of a difficult 2020 was a blow. welcome thumbs up. So far, volcanic activity has been contained within the park, providing a geological spectacle with no significant current risk of damage to homes or businesses.
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“The timing of the holiday season couldn’t be better. It’s like a Christmas miracle from Pelé,” Nagel said, referring to the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes who, according to legend, lives and influences Kilauea. “It gives us a chance to showcase our island, and we’re so grateful after this year’s downturn.”
It’s unclear how long the activity will continue, but the company is working to ease FAA flight restrictions to bring visits closer to the action before it wears off. Currently, flights are not permitted within three miles of the crater, and flights cannot descend below 9,000 feet above sea level in the area. Paradise Helicopters owner and pilot Cal Dorn believes the restrictions are overly conservative and that it is possible to bring spectators closer to the crater safely and provide a better experience.
“Since visitors can walk to within a mile of the eruption, I would like to be able to fly within three miles so that our guests can safely experience this current activity,” he said. declared.
Paradise Helicopters is the only company on the Big Island to offer guided tours that make it easy to get photos and unobstructed views. Their standard tours can accommodate up to six passengers, while charter flights on Bell 430 twin-engine helicopters can accommodate up to seven passengers.
Activity at Kilauea is currently contained within a closed area at Halemaumau, the summit crater, where two vents spewing molten rock are feeding a rising lava lake. The area has been closed since 2007 due to instability. The park is open 24 hours a day and has seen a “sharp increase in visitation” since volcanic activity began, according to a statement from the National Park Service. Inside the park, vantage points to view the new eruption include Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff), Kilauea Overlook, Keanakakoi, Waldron Ledge, and other viewpoints along Crater Rim Trail.
Kilauea last erupted in early May 2018, when magma flowed from the chamber below the Halemaumau crater at Kilauea’s summit. Hundreds of homes and other structures were destroyed by lava flows, towering columns of ash rose into the air, and there were more than 60,000 violent earthquakes with escalating activity. completed in September of that year.